Bonnie Lee Schwegler was born on March 25, 1927 in Argyle, Maries County, Missouri. She was born first, followed by her fraternal twin Betty. Their birth certificate says they were born on March 26th but the record was not filed by the doctor until almost a month later. All of their other records show their birth on March 25th so that’s the date I am using.
Both girls were born into a blended family of nine. Their mother Stella Burt married Harrison Wright Schwegler in 1923. At the time of their marriage Stella had one child. Harrison, who went by Wright, had six children by his first wife, who died in early 1923. By the time the 1930 census was taken, the family was in St. Louis. After the birth of the twins, four more children would follow.
Much of the information about Bonnie’s childhood is from an interview conducted in 1991 by Brian, her grandson. Bonnie remembered living in a large house in the city of St. Louis. The house had twelve rooms and belonged to a wealthy family that rented it out for thirty dollars a month. This was the beginning of the depression so I’m sure the family was happy to have a house that had running water, electricity and a coal burning furnace. Bonnie remembered a huge front staircase, a walk-in pantry, and maid’s quarters. The girls had their own beds and the boys slept in bunk beds. Later the family moved to Pinelawn in St. Louis County. By the time the family purchased a home on Manola Avenue, most of the older children were married and in their own homes. This is the house I remember from my childhood.
Every summer Wright and Stella traveled back to Vienna, Missouri where many of their extended family lived. They would butcher two hogs and buy vegetables. They picked blackberries, apples, and pears. I can imagine how hot they were and how their hands and arms were covered with scratches from the blackberry bushes. Stella canned five hundred gallons of vegetables and fruit every summer. The family purchased flour and other staples from a store in the city. From this they would make their bread and biscuits. The girls did most of the housework and helped tend the babies when Stella was unable.
The family attended the Baptist Church. Each of the children had one good outfit, and one for every-day wear. At Christmas time, the married children came home for a big family dinner. At Easter time, the younger children received baskets. The baskets had sugar candy, rabbits, and sometimes a piece of chocolate. Easter eggs were boiled but not dyed. Wright hid the eggs in the empty lot next door to their home. I remember playing in that empty lot until sometime in the late 50s or 60s when a house was built upon the land.
Bonnie remembers listening to programs on the radio like “Lum and Abner”, “Amos and Andy”, and “George Burns and Gracie Allen”. The family gathered around the radio the night the “War of the Worlds” broadcast took place in 1938; she was eleven years old. Unlike the mass panic created by the program across the country, the family was afraid, but they didn’t leave their house or call anyone.
All of the children went to school. Bonnie was active in sports. The Normandy High School yearbook from 1941 shows that she belonged to the Junior Girls’ Tumbling Club. She also belonged to the track team. Her brother Frank was a star football player for Normandy High School. The family went to games and watched him play. Because Frank was a football star, he had more than one set of clothes. According to Bonnie, her father was very tight with his money except with Frank. She dropped out of high school in the tenth grade because she was tired of washing out her clothes and underwear every day. I never knew her to be resentful of the situation however.
After Bonnie dropped out of high school she worked in a department store as a clerk. Later she eventually worked at a shoe factory and played on their softball team. This is where she met her future husband, Tom Lane.